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Firearms: How Clean is Clean Enough?

I grew up with a father who was very strict about firearms cleaning and maintenance. The rule was simple: If you touched a gun, you were to wipe it down before you put it away. If you fired that gun, even once, you were to clean it thoroughly, then wipe it down before you put it away.

But now I’m carrying a gun every day and I don’t wipe it down at the end of each day. Sometimes I don’t even clean it after I shoot it!

Did I just hear an audible gasp from all the guys with the same gun-cleaning ethic as my dad? I’m sure if some old, retired First Sergeant ran his finger across the feed ramp of my pistol, his blood pressure would immediately go up 20 points. But my pistol still works.

And this is where the debate begins. How dirty is too dirty? How clean is clean enough? Personally, I think it comes down to knowing your firearms very well. I have some guns that begin to malfunction, usually failure to feed, at about 500 rounds if they are run completely dry and not cleaned during a training course. Those same guns will run well past 1,000 rounds if I start the course with them thoroughly cleaned and properly lubricated. I have a couple other guns that just never stop working no matter how badly I abuse them.

But here is the $64,000 question: Are you willing to risk a malfunction during a gunfight? You see, if you head out and complete some serious training but then choose not to clean your gun before you holster up and wander the mean streets, you are sort of asking for trouble. Let’s say you finish a 500-round training course and you don’t clean your gun. Unbeknownst to you, your sidearm decides to malfunction at round 502. By not cleaning your gun after a serious training session, you are inviting more potential problems.

So let’s say we take it as a given that you should clean the gun after every training course. But what about cleaning your gun when you have not fired it? When should you clean that gun if all it does is ride around in your holster all day?

This is where we have some room for debate.

A gun in a holster will pick up its share of daily dirt. How dirty the gun gets is largely a matter of the holster material, the location of the holster on your body, and the amount of dust and dirt you are subjected to during the day. For instance, a revolver carried in a leather ankle rig will pick up more dirt than the same gun in a leather hip holster. If you happen to be walking around lots of dusty parking areas with your gun in an ankle holster, you can count on even more dirt. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a handgun carried in an open-bottom Kydex inside-the-waistband holster will stay pretty clean because pretty much anything that gets inside the holster will fall right out the bottom.

Still, after about week of knocking around, it might be time to pull your gun out of the holster, unload it, and give it a quick once-over. On a revolver, make sure there is no dust or lint clinging to the ratchet, hand, or locking mechanism. Also check the hammer travel and take a look at the firing pin area. Most of the time, the daily dirt will not get in the way of firing pin travel, but do you really want to take that chance?

When dealing with an auto-loading pistol, you have other areas to keep track of. If the gun has an exposed hammer and you carry it cocked and locked, you’ll need to clean that entire area. Also, I have noticed a fair amount of dust and such along the slide rails where they mate to the frame. Those need cleaning. Safety levers also seem to attract and hold dirt.

If you do the quick cleaning weekly, you may want to field strip the pistol and conduct a more thorough cleaning monthly. The goal here is to do this regularly so as to not let dirt build up. Built up dirt can negatively affect the function of your pistol. That would be a bad thing.

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